Low-Meat Paleo

May 9, 2011

Like many of my posts, this one starts with a conversation at a party. Last weekend, a friend of a friend expressed her interest in a paleo/primal diet over a red cup of “jungle juice” (don’t fret – I avoided the syrupy substance).

Here’s the catch: She’s not a fan of meat.

According to her, this abstinence is neither ethical nor nutritional, she is just “grossed out by the texture.” At least that was what I took from our conversation. It doesn’t really matter why she wants to be flesh-free, the question is the same: How should I eat paleo without meat? Is it even worth it?

It is worth it. Read on for more about why and how.

Lost in the discussion of low-carb weight loss, hormone management, and ancestrally-accurate supplement doses is the true message of Paleo: Eat real, whole, natural food.

Meat is a great example of a whole, natural food, especially when it’s raised right. Of course, animal products offer superb nutrient density, and as such make great choices. If you don’t like meat, definitely consider pastured eggs and dairy products.

Nutrient density (as I use it here) is the presence of micronutrients per calorie. We have requirements for these micronutrients; a diet composed of more nutrient-dense foods can meet those requirements with fewer calories. In fact, some believe that hunger may be (in part) determined by instantaneous micronutrient requirement. So nutrient-dense foods may be more filling than their low-density counterparts (even when macronutrient profiles are matched).

If you don’t have the money for the fancy stuff, I would suggest avoiding liquid milk (homogenization and pasteurization are not your friends), and just buying cheap eggs. They may be missing some of what truly makes an egg an egg, but they still blow bagels out of the water.

If you can stomach it, eat some fish. Go for the wild-caught stuff, and don’t worry about mercury. Everyone should be eating a few servings of fish per week (though it can get expensive), and those passing on hamburgers could really use the protein. Shellfish can make a great choice too, and some vegans even advocate consumption of oysters.

Ok, so I would be remiss if I avoided discussing macronutrients altogether. Protein has a few great benefits for a healthy lifestyle. Among other things, consuming protein causes glucagon release, which increases insulin sensitivity. I haven’t seen this shown convincingly, but I am of the belief that elevated protein intake can cause muscle growth even in sedentary individuals. So even if you aren’t eating much meat, it behooves you to get in some real protein (a good starting point for minimally active individuals is about .8g/lb of body weight per day, IMO). I trust that I don’t need to remind you not to get your protein from soy!

I’ve found that many of those who shun meat tend to eat lots of plants (or candy, but we’re better than that). If you’re going to eat lots of plants, make them veggies. Stated more directly, watch your fruit (read: fructose) intake. In other words, bananas good – watermelon bad.

The Bottom Line

Meat is featured prominently on the paleo menu because, in addition to being a whole, natural food, it offers great nutrient density (and it’s just plain tasty). That doesn’t mean that a healthy paleo diet requires meat. It’s still a good idea to get in any animal products that you do enjoy, but the primary requirement here is to eat only real, whole, natural food. If what you’re about to eat weren’t around 10k years ago, give it a second thought before chowing down. I have sympathy for differing preferences within the whole-foods family, but I’ll never tell you it’s okay to eat bread.

Also, keep an open mind – when you feel up to it, give new meats or different cooking methods a try. Maybe you’ll find you like meat more than you think.

Entry filed under: Basics, Food Choices. Tags: .

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